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    Directed by

    USA, Italy


    85 min

    • Amharic


    Through a coming-of-age story, ​ANBESSA ​captures one boy taking on modernization on his own terms, revealing a unique and magical perspective on the myth of “progress” that entraps us all. Ten-year-old Asalif and his mother have been displaced from their farmland on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by the construction of a condominium. As they watch the buildings take shape, they are reminded in small and big ways that their country’s dream of “progress” is not for them. To fight back against those casting him out and those threatening his mother’s safety, Asalif taps into a fantasy of becoming his hero: the lion (“anbessa” in Amharic). Asalif uses his imagination to battle forces beyond his control. His newfound power and fantasy take him to places he never imagined inside and out of the condo until finally, Asalif must find the strength that resides in him as a boy, and shed the lion persona, in order to deal with the tides of change and violence that are usurping a community, a country, and his own identity.


    Labels & Line Ups


    Asalif Tewold
    Alem Sebisibe Ayitenfsu
    Mo Scarpelli
    Mo Scarpelli
    Nico Leunen
    Thomas Pooters
    Erik K. Skodvin

    Director's Statement

    I began filming with Asalif and we started creating a fairytale out of his experience. Fairytales offer us ways to face the complex forces that affect us, ones too large or complicated to comprehend as they unfold. This is what this ten-year-old protagonist does in his daily life: he spins elaborate stories in order to deal with the intense forces of change and domination that are threatening him and his mother. With time and care, he granted me intimate access to his world and that of his neighbors to really dig into how modernity conflicts human identity and coming of age.
    On the surface, Ethiopia seems to benefit greatly from globalization. However, rapid “progress” is actively leaving millions like Asalif out of the picture. While ANBESSA is set in Addis Ababa, the ways gentrification, industrialization, and capitalism push so many out of the success story are truly universal.

    Mo Scarpelli

    Mo Scarpelli


    Filmmaking gives me the means to shut up and listen, to watch, to suspend judgement unlike any other moment in my life.

    Mo Scarpelli is an Italian-American director and cinematographer of non-fiction cinema. After completing a Bachelor's in Journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, her debut documentary feature FRAME BY FRAME (2015) screened at SXSW 2015, BFI London FF, Hot Docs (Audience Top Ten), and over 100 other festivals, garnering over a dozen awards as well as a Cinema Eye Honors nomination. Her film ANBESSA (2019) was nominated for both the Crystal Bear and the Glashütte Documentary Prize at the 69th Berlinale. Mo is a Berlinale Talent, a two-time recipient of Catapult Film Fund support, and has received fellowships from the New America Foundation and International Women in Media Foundation. She was awarded Best Director at MountainFilm Telluride, received the Speranza Foundation Female Filmmaker Award along with the Lena Sharpe Award for Persistence of Vision. Her latest film EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF (2020), shot in Venezuela, premiered and received a Special Mention for Best International Feature Film Competition at the 51st Visions du Réel. She is based in Rome.

    Selected Filmography